ON WINGS OF SONG:

“A good playwright loads the dice,”

Thomas Disch

wrote in these pages, “to make [the collision of worldviews] compelling. A better playwright, like a god, unloads the dice, and devil take the hindmost.” For Tom, who deserved to have been a character of the best of all playwrights but was not so lucky, the unloaded dice fell in his New York apartment on July 4, when his spirit could no longer bear to collide with mounting misfortunes, the most recent of which was an eviction notice. Tom committed suicide at 68. He is survived by a large, varied and brilliant body of writings and by many sorrowing colleagues and readers at The Nation.

Tom reviewed novels and poetry books for The Nation, contributed his own poetry, anatomized politico-cultural follies and issued polemics; but he will be most remembered at this magazine as its supremely amused and amusing theater critic. From 1987 to 1993, he joyfully sawall the shows he wanted for free and in return for small sums shared his thoughts, which had a wit, depth, verve and range no one could surpass. He wrote about the new

August Wilson

drama and about the latest edition of Ice Capades. (“No other dance form commands such broad realms of space or moves through that space with such dreamlike seeming ease.”) He interpreted how Hamlet had again been reinterpreted, assayed the ratio of gold to dross in a

Tadeusz Kantor

international co-production (boy, did Kantor’s fans get mad!) and famously described, in vivid detail, an epoch-making Titus Andronicus that

Charles Ludlam

had directed–only he hadn’t, because Ludlam died too soon, of AIDS.

Like the speculative fiction that brought Tom his first acclaim–remarkable novels such as Camp Concentration and On Wings of Song–that review of the phantom Ludlam production showed how delight and sorrow, intellectual power and moral outrage were always at the core of his flights of imagination. In noting these qualities, at least one eulogist has compared Tom to that other ingenious novelist, poet and pamphleteer,

Jonathan Swift

. It’s a just comparison. Let it be said of Tom Disch, too: “He has gone where fierce indignation can lacerate his heart no more.”   STUART KLAWANS

PUT DOWN NO FLAGS:

Fawning memorials followed the July 4 death of former North Carolina Senator

Jesse Helms

. The grossest, no doubt, was Senator

Elizabeth Dole

‘s proposal to name an AIDS bill after the noted homophobe, who once said that people with AIDS got sick as a result of “deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct.” But North Carolina state employee

William Eason III

would have none of it. The 51-year-old manager of the State Standards Laboratory refused to lower the flags outside the lab; in doing so, he flouted a gubernatorial directive and was forced to resign.

Catching up with Eason at his home in Cary, it was clear his irreverence had not wavered. “The man was a horrendous monster. North Carolina should be very ashamed of what he did to both us and the nation. He voted against every civil rights bill that came before him. He filibustered the Martin Luther King holiday. He had the audacity to say he wasn’t a racist, and then he starts singing ‘Dixie’ when he was onan elevator with a black Congresswoman.” Eason took a breath, then added, “If I can convert a person or two to believe in civil rights and humanity, I’ll know I have done a good thing”–which would be the sweetest final comeuppance for the bigot from North Carolina.   SARAH O’LEARY

FISA FIGHT-BACK:

Many supporters of

Barack Obama

were outraged by his decision to back the recent White House surveillance bill (FISA), so they took over his website.To its credit, the Obama campaign runsthe most open online platform of any major presidential candidate. Visitors may post criticism of the candidate–an act that was restricted on HillaryClinton.com–or use networking tools to build protest groups. Activists did just that by creating Please Vote NO on Telecom Immunity–Get FISA Right, which swiftly became the largest network on Obama’s site, topping even the campaign’s official groups. After whipping up the blogosphere, the group drew coverage from TheNation.com, newspapers and TV.

Then Obama responded directly. In an unusually long online letter, Obama said he still opposed immunity but supported the bill to modernize surveillance oversight and pursue “accountability” via future investigations. Activists welcomed the reply but rejected the substance. Many are continuing the fight at a new hub, getfisaright.com, which organizes Obama supporters around civil liberties. A related coalition, accountabilitynowpac.com, is coordinating a fundraising drive on August 8, the anniversary of the announcement of

Richard Nixon

‘s resignation, to mobilize against the “key enablers of the tyrannical and lawless FISA ‘compromise.'”

If Obama is lucky, he’ll continue to benefit from activists who support his candidacy but also intend to press him on key issues, using his campaign’s tools to organize for causes beyond his election. The protest group replied to Obama’s letter by heralding this collective dynamic. “As you have said time and again Senator, ‘we are the ones we have been waiting for,’ and we are here, working to bring about real change in Washington.”   ARI MELBER

McKINNEY’S RUN:

“Some people said this was the year to elect a woman president. Some people say this is the year to elect a person of color president. Some people say we need a president with experience serving on the Armed Services Committee, dealing with national security issues,” observes former Georgia Congresswoman

Cynthia McKinney

. “I agree!” she adds, grinning.”I agree with all of them.” McKinney, who clashed frequently with fellow Democrats during six terms in the House–and once with the Capitol Police–accepted the

Green Party

nod for president on July 12. Close to the Greens when she served in the House as an advocate of peace and impeachment, McKinney joined the party a year ago and was quickly touted as a presidential prospect. She came reluctantly to the fight but eventually won the nomination with relative ease. McKinney, who will run as an aggressive antiwar candidate, knows she’ll struggle for a hearing in the fall but says, “I’m pretty good at making myself heard, even when people in power don’t want to listen.”   JOHN NICHOLS